Tuesday, January 28, 2020

BYU culture makes positive impact on athlete’s non-Latter-day Saint parents

Keoni and Libby Almeida have been through this before — their eldest daughter of three, Carolyn, had committed to the Lewis & Clark University in Portland, Ore., as a collegiate golf athlete in 2015.

The Almeidas were supportive of their children achieving their dreams on an academic and athletic level and were prepared to send their children out of state if necessary. 

Their second daughter Madeline, chose a slightly different university than Carolyn.

As members of the Catholic faith living in El Dorado Hills, Calif., the parents were shocked when Madeline told them she would be attending BYU, a religious university located in Provo, Utah, to play tennis. Little did they know that they would grow to love the school and its culture almost as much as Madeline did.

Madeline has a reputation on the court for being a fierce competitor, and she has brought home various accolades. She was ranked in the top 70 recruits in the U.S. during her senior year and won the California Sac-San Joaquin D1 High School Individual Championships in 2016 and 2017. Her interest in playing collegiate tennis was aroused by potential universities on the West Coast, including Gonzaga.

Libby said Madeline first reached out to BYU after a visit with Gonzaga. Unimpressed with the atmosphere at Gonzaga, Madeline knew she couldn’t accept the offer from the Spokane-based team.

“She said, ‘Who’s your rival?’ and they said, ‘We can’t stand BYU,’ and she came home and called BYU,” Libby said.

Madeline made the decision to attend BYU starting in Fall 2017 without even visiting the actual campus — she just felt confident in the university. 

A little shocked by her choice, Keoni and Libby said they were always supportive of their daughter becoming a Cougar and have begun to recognize the benefits of attending the university.

Their first praise to the school revolved around its Honor Code, which prohibits alcohol consumption among their students. Libby said that while some athletes may find this a negative aspect of the school, she believes there are many athletes, like Madeline, who want to maintain self-discipline and dislike the constant party atmosphere that other schools have. 

Libby said she loved hearing about all of the uplifting activities that took place in the BYU freshmen dorms, such as cookie parties, bonfires or sledding nights.

Keoni agreed with this and said that while it may seem difficult for BYU to recruit non-members for athletics, he believes it should be easier for BYU to choose their top choice because it will lead to more disciplined players. 

“Everyone should want to come to BYU,” Libby said.

Madeline made a pledge that resonates deeper than her choice to attend the school for the past two years. The current BYU junior was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and married BYU student Matthew Wanlass this year. 

Parents Keoni and Libby said they couldn’t be prouder of their daughter and her accomplishments.

Concerning her baptism, the Almeidas said it did not surprise them when they were told of the new religious commitment. Madeline had been given the nickname the “non-Mormon Mormon” on her tennis team before she took the official step of baptism because her lifestyle choices aligned well with the Church’s standards from the start. 

Madeline was married five months after she was baptized into the Church. While the engagement was quicker than the average courtship in California, the parents said they knew when they met Matt that he was perfect for their daughter. 

Keoni and Libby held an engagement party in California where friends and family were a bit concerned at the speedy wedding date. Libby said the guests originally thought it was crazy for the young couple to be married, but it took only minutes for them to meet Matt, recognize the connection between him and Madeline and approve their matrimony.

“And then it was like, ‘Well, does he have a brother?’” Libby said.

While Keoni and Libby have enjoyed watching their daughter excel in BYU’s culture, they have also appreciated what it means to be a Cougar fan. 

Keoni said he is impressed with BYU’s fan base and the number of fans the school will generate at any BYU athletic event, no matter the location. 

“Even when I’ll wear my sweatshirt around town or traveling or whatnot, people always say, ‘Go Cougs!’” Libby added. “It’s so fun to be a part of the community.”

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